Skip to main content


Crying is something I may write about in the future. Until then here is a post more visual in nature about tears and what they might evoke when you look at them in a way not normally encountered.


When I read Gnomon by Nick Harkaway a while ago, one passage stood out.

“Once, I saw a remarkable series of photographs which showed the different compositions of human tears. It had not ever occurred to me until that moment that tears of joy might be measurably different from tears of anger or sorrow, but they are. Cause matters. If you cry from slicing an onion, the structure of your tears resembles the undergrowth in a pine forest. Remembrance is a grid pattern, like the map of New York City, but from each block emerge soft, questing tendrils, as if the body of the tear itself reaches out for what is lost. By comparison, other tears are plain. Elation is etiolated and fragile, grief is sparse, rage is linear, horror is jagged. Of all the pictures in the collection, only remembrance was complex.”

I suspect the collection of photos referred to in this work of fiction is The Topography of Tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher. Although I have seen another collection online by a Japanese artist but that’s mostly tears shed while chopping different kinds of food.

Here are some examples of Fisher’s work.


Onion tears:










What it meant long after a time forgotten:




I had come across this notion many years ago, that the composition of tears might vary. That the variance might be different hormones or pheromones and possibly cause a reaction in someone else, in a chemical way. Rose-Lynn Fisher presents her own tears as a landscape of emotion. A journey through a period of her life where interpretation is infinite and unknowable. An ancient country shaped by glacial erosion.


UPDATE: The week I posted this I shared the post with Nick Harkaway on twitter and a couple of days later he actually confirmed that Rose-Lynn Fisher’s collection was the one he was referring to in that passage of the novel. About a week later I was delighted to get an email, via the website, from Rose-Lynn Fisher herself, who’d discovered the post and had looked around the site. Thank you both for reading and getting in touch with me.

Fisher, Gnomon, Harkaway, microscopic, photography, tears, topography